The current competition is so fierce, retailers stand accused of getting business with dodgy means, and even stealing clients off their competition.
Alarming stories of power company marketers cold-calling householders and using nasty stand-over tactics are emerging. Targeting the elderly, they refuse to leave until they sign up on the spot.
An Origin Energy marketer blitzed an apartment block where pensioners Frank Ryan and Karen Fitzgerald live. Both say they were subjected to a horrific ear-bashing and intimidation to get them to sign up when he knocked on their doors unsolicited.More stories from Today Tonight
“We asked him for his ID and he refused to show it. Then when we told him we weren't interested. He got very abusive and when we told him to leave and he didn't leave, we said we’d call the police and he swore at us,” Fitzgerald said.
73-year-old Ryan was happy with Energy Australia’s Ausgrid. But illiterate and bewildered, he was completely steam-rolled and ended up signing the papers shoved in his hands, transferred to Origin.
“He was bullying me to sign up with the company he was representing,” Ryan said.
“He just kept on at Frank and bullying him and intimidating him until he gave in to sign the contract, so that the man would leave,” Fitzgerald said.
Clair Flynn who lives in an apartment in a seniors’ complex, has been a loyal long-term customer of AGL.
But the last power bill, a $147 account, was not from AGL but from Origin Energy.
“I was horrified I said ‘I'm not with Origin Energy, how could this happen’ so I made some quick inquiries and rang AGL, and they said ‘well we do believe these that things do occur’,” Flynn said.
Flynn was switched without her knowledge or consent.
The ACCC has started legal action against AGL and marketing company CPM Australia for making false claims to householders in door-to-door-selling campaigns.
The competition between energy companies is cutthroat. The Energy Ombudsman reported almost 8,000 complaints nationwide in the past year about householders’ accounts being hijacked without consent, or because of company error - an increase of 30 per cent from the previous year.
“I felt like I had been compromised in every way,” Flynn said.
When she complained Origin agreed to terminate the bogus account, but amazingly they also turned off her power.
“I had absolutely no power, and it was ten past seven at night, and I thought ‘well this is after hours’,” Flynn said.
Flynn was literally left in the dark, despite ringing the State's power distributing authority.
South Australia's Energy Ombudsman Sandy Canale says his office alone dealt with 900 complaints last year on company transfers where electricity providers were switched without customer's permission.
Each power meter is given an identifier number and registered on a national data bank. An energy retailer has to apply to get billing rights for a particular address and meter, to transfer customers and set up new accounts. But marketers for energy companies can get new accounts under false pretences.
“Generally it’s human error. The energy company may actually pick up the wrong account, and in doing so actually pick up the wrong meter, which will result in the property being transferred incorrectly. The customer should receive a final bill by the provider, and that should raise some alarm bills,” Canale said.
“I did not receive any notification that my account was closed, and it had been taken over by another company – nothing,” Flynn said.
“I strongly recommend that you contact the retailer or the retailers involved, and try and get the matter resolved. If you remain unsatisfied then call us. We will take up the matter on your behalf and ensure it is resolved as quickly as possible,” Canale advised.
Origin Energy says it "expects a high standard of behaviour from our sales representatives and strict adherence to the Energy Assured Code of Practice.
“We're working with both of the account holders featured in your story to facilitate their transfers back to their former energy retailer."
Every state has its Energy Ombudsman to sort out problems like we've just seen. So contact your local Ombudsman if you need help.Contact details